Gene Bruton, government sales manager for Hoist Fitness Systems, San Diego, usually hits the road during the summer months to drum up business with military fitness facilities. This year, however, the message was clear: Don’t bother.
“You call to talk to some of these fitness managers and MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] directors,” Bruton says. “They say, ‘You can come see us if you want to, but we don’t have any money.’”
As the automatic spending cuts to the U.S. government—also known as the sequester—head into their eighth month, equipment manufacturers with government contracts are feeling the pinch. According to the Congressional Budget Office, of the approximately$84 billion slashed from the federal budget, the largest chunk—$42.7 billion—hit the Department of Defense, which oversees the Army, Navy (including Marines), and Air Force. (The Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security.)
“It’s killing us,” Bruton says. “We’re all way down in sales compared to last year.”
Hoist works with all branches of the military, but the company’s largest client is the Navy, Bruton says. He adds that typically, close to the end of the government fiscal year on Sept. 30, the military will stock up on inventory to meet demand. That has not been the case this year, he says.
“There are some [nonappropriated] funds out there, which seem to be about the only thing being spent right now,” Bruton says.
An executive at another equipment manufacturer who asked not to be named for this story says that his company’s government clients are worried about how much they will be able to staff fitness centers and buy new equipment on account of the spending cuts. Specifics on these cuts are hard to come by, but military budgets have been cut drastically, he says.
“At first, a lot of gyms were calling in contractors to do aerobics classes,” he says. “Not as much anymore.”
Military business has slowed at Precor, Woodinville, WA, says Frank Palmer, the company’s director of government sales. Business had been brisk until Sept. 30, he says, but October was quiet due to both the continuing sequester and government shutdown, which lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 16. Palmer says the sequester has affected equipment sales and personnel running the gyms, and fitness center hours and staff were cut back as a result.
Staying Open and Cutting Costs
A survey released earlier this year from First Command Financial Services, a financial planning organization that targets the military, revealed that military families, by way of cuts to popular services for troops, are feeling the effects of the sequester cuts far more than the average American. Seventy-two percent of middle-class military families surveyed said they were negatively affected, compared to 32 percent of middle-income civilians. Nearly half of the military families surveyed reported dealing with reduced operating hours in on-base commissaries and exchanges.
Lisa Sexauer, the fitness, sports and deployed support program manager at Commander, Navy and Installations Command (CNIC), Washington, DC, says that although some Navy installations did not make any adjustments due to the sequester, others have cut operational hours. Sexauer estimates an average reduction of four hours per week at the 115 staffed fitness facilities among the Navy’s 70-plus bases.
“We’ve been very effective at minimizing our overall program cost,” she says, adding that most of the cuts have been from back-of-the-house support functions. “There’s been very little impact on the fleet.”
During the government shutdown, fitness was considered a mission-essential activity, Sexauer says. Some furloughs occurred at Navy headquarters and in higher management, she adds, but everybody was called back to work after four days.
Overseas, access to fitness facilities also has been deemed mission-essential and thus has been unaffected by sequester cuts, says Capt. Mark Osmack of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
“To the best of my knowledge, there has been minimal to no impact to [military fitness centers], which I use daily,” Osmack said in an email from his post at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
A source in the public relations department at Fort Carson, an Army base near Colorado Springs, CO, says that sequester cuts have had no effect on military fitness there.
Mike Desmone, chief of sports and fitness at Fort Bragg, NC, says the sequester’s impact on fitness facilities there has been limited. Desmone oversees all 13 fitness centers plus intramural sports programs on Fort Bragg, as well as the upkeep and maintenance of the fitness facilities and their equipment. Fort Bragg, the largest installation per capita in the Army, had 1.6 million visitors in its fitness centers within the last year, according to Desmone.
“With this fiscal climate, I’ve become more cautious,” Desmone says. “Is this a nice-to-have [piece of equipment] or something we need in order to maintain operations? Hypothetically, instead of buying three of something, I think about why we are buying three in the first place.”